CAPE TOWN – South African anti-apartheid Muslim activist and icon Ahmed Kathrada was laid to rest on Wednesday, March 29, at the age of 87, after passing away peacefully in a Johannesburg hospital.
“Ahmed Kathrada was one of those leaders. A man of remarkable gentleness, modesty and steadfastness,” South Africa’s Nobel Peace laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu said, the BBC reported.
“He once wrote to the president to argue that he did not deem himself important enough to be awarded a high honor.”
Kathrada’s coffin was covered in the flag of the ruling African National Congress party. Mandela’s ex-wife Winnie Madikizela Mandela, 80, attended the funeral.
“I’m experiencing the same pain I was experiencing at the death of Madiba [ex-husband Nelson Mandela]. When Madiba passed on, part of his soul was left in Kathy, he was just an extension of our family,” she said.
“So, the pain is the same, and somehow it feels like a closure of a chapter in history.
“A very painful chapter, of men and women who dedicated themselves to this country, who fought for their values and principles they thought we’d instill in our society.”
Kathrada was born in 1929 to a scholarly Muslim family and became involved in political activism at the age of 11.
He and Mandela were part of a group sentenced to life imprisonment after the historic Rivonia trial of top ANC activists in 1964. Kathrada was released from prison in 1989, just months before Mandela himself walked free.
During the past year, Kathrada was a regular at demonstrations and marches around South Africa, frequently offering his support to students protesting for free education.
A statement from Zuma’s office said the president would respect the wishes of Kathrada’s family for him to stay away, due to political clashes.
“President Zuma will not attend the funeral and memorial service in compliance with the wishes of the family,” according to a statement issued by the president’s office prior to the service.
According to the BBC’s Milton Nkosi, Kathrada, affectionately known as Kathy, was not only one of Mandela’s closest friends, but also a human rights activist in his own right who had a long history in the struggle against discrimination and apartheid.